Large type music

So I go into a Starbucks before a business meeting.  I have 30 minutes to spare. I think a cup of coffee would be fine. Now I’m not a big Starbucks fan but it was freezing outside and being able to sit in a warm coffee shop was irresistible.

Inside I ordered my cup of black coffee and sat down at a long table.  I thought to myself I’ll look through my phone and warm my bones at the same time.

Sitting, sipping and scrolling I noticed that there was music coming through the overhead speakers.  And it was music that had clear lyrics and brassy horns.  I found myself tapping my feet and thinking back to when I first heard the tune.  It had to be at least 50 years ago.  Guess that makes it a classic.

I then heard someone next to me ask another person, “Who is that singing?” The person being asked said, “I’m not sure.  I think it’s Tony Bennett.”

I glanced over, curious to see who this person with the young voice was who actually knew Tony Bennett.  The Tony fan turned out to be an Asian man. He was asked the singer’s identity by another young Asian man and sitting between them was a middle aged African American woman who didn’t think the singer was Tony but she wasn’t sure who it could be.

As they discussed the identity back and forth I listened and then chimed in with, “It’s Bobby Darren.”  The trio said, “Who?” and I repeated, “Bobby Darren.  And the song he’s singing is called Mack the Knife.”

None of the three had ever heard of Bobby Darren, which didn’t surprise me, but they all liked the sound of his voice.  (Poor Bobby. If only he was around to hear this.)

The woman then asked me if I could write down the name of the singer for the two Asian men. They were visiting New York from Hong Kong and they wanted to purchase the music and take it back west to the Far East.

I pulled a small notebook from my carry-everything bag and printed on a piece of composition book paper,  “B-0-b-b-y  D-a-r-r-e-n”

The lady, who was a friend of the two men, didn’t even look at the paper but she immediately said, “Could you print it large please?”  As if she expected me to write the name down in small type.

I turned the paper over and printed, “B-O-B-B-Y  D-A-R-R-E-N”.  She took the paper and handed it to one of the men and everyone thanked me – a lot. Boy, they were really appreciative.  I thought to myself that they must not be from New York. Not to say we New Yorkers aren’t courteous but we do have our limitations.

Glancing down on the table I noticed that the woman had in front of her three white sticks, around 12 inches apiece. Because they seemed to be so interested in the music playing I made an assumption and asked her, “Are you a drummer?  Are those your drum sticks?”

The woman looked at me as well as the two men and the trio laughed.  Suddenly looking at them in the eyes, and then glancing down at the white sticks on the table, I realized the obvious.

“Me?  A drummer?  No, those aren’t drum sticks. That’s my walking stick.” And she picked up the pile of sticks and with a couple of whips of her wrists unfolded them into a 4 foot long, white walking stick.

“I’m blind but my friends here can see a bit. That’s why we asked you to write down the name of the singer in large type.”

I paused and actually said, “Oh, I see.”  Luckily they laughed.

True story.


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Profits from people…Profits for people

I posted a comment on Facebook that generated some interesting responses. I was watching a show on C-SPAN with two economic spokespersons for business organizations who were discussing the state of the economy as of January 2017.

One of the commentators said something that I didn’t realize.  Between 2000 and 2010 over a million jobs were lost in the USA. Of those million jobs 80% of them were lost to automation.  In other words businesses found cheaper and more efficient ways to run their operations.

Wow!  That means it wasn’t because of hordes of cheap labor immigrant that jobs disappeared.  It was simply free enterprise being free to do what they want in order to run their businesses at a profit.  If that meant machines would make the product at a lower price than humans and not demand healthcare, sick days, or vacation pay then so be it.

I’m no business expert but I do know that in our capitalist system an enterprise is free to function they way it wants as long as it is within the law.

For some reason a few people who read my post didn’t believe that automation had displaced so many jobs.  Instead of getting into an argument or debate I posted a story from Fortune magazine basically reiterating the point that automation had done away with many, many jobs.

All of which led me to think of another point — are we at a crossroads here?  Is the motivation for a business to be just to make profits through the work of its employees or is the driving force to be a fair distribution of those profits for the employees?

I always thought that competitive wages would determine how profits were distributed.  The better you were as a worker the more you received in salary (or a share of the profits if you will).

Now I’m hearing that according to the movement of the day a company should be forced, or politically extorted, into making profits only for one group (Americans) and those profits should be distributed only to that group.

I asked a number of everyday workers what they thought of the two premises and the answer I got back from every single one of them was the same.  Basically it came down to, “I don’t care how much profit a company makes as long as I’m getting a fair share of it.”

Got it. Keep it simple stupid.

True story.

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Now this is diversity

Yesterday morning I was standing on the subway platform thinking of nothing other than where is the train and what’s holding it up.

I looked down to the end of the platform and saw three New York City transit workers huddled together. They appeared to be discussing something and not coming to an agreement.  Their arms flailing about and their raised voices was a hint.

Out of curiosity, and getting bored  waiting for the subway, I wandered down to where they were standing so I could listen in on their conversation.

It seems they had to put up a sign announcing a change of schedule for the trains. This must have been an unexpected change because they were going to write the sign out by hand and tape it to one of the pillars that extends from the platform to the station ceiling.

What struck me was the three men themselves. There was a Hispanic, a Sikh complete with turban, and a Jamaican.

Their discussion was energetic, animated and made all the more interesting by the blending of the three distinctive accents. Together they formed an almost poetic sound that reverberated off the tile walls of the subway tunnel.

When I finally figured out what they were discussing I smiled and laughed to myself. It seems they were debating whether one of the phrases they had to write on the sign should be “don’t” or “do not.”

Here were three men for whom the American version of English is most likely their second language trying mightily to determine the proper usage of a common phrase we English-first-language speakers take for granted.  But they were going to get it right.

I don’t know about all of America but I know this…you don’t have to make New York City great again.  With conscientious people like this we already are.

True story.


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Yes, you can trust the US Post Office

Two weeks ago my older brother passed away. In the end his cigarette smoking led to emphysema which led to fatal pneumonia.  As an ex-smoker I know how difficult it is to quit so I’m not holding anything against him for not stopping.

But that’s not the reason I’m writing this story.

In his will he indicated that he wanted to be cremated.  Honoring his wishes I contacted the National Cremation Society (yes, there is such an organization) and luckily, or I guess expectedly, they had an office in the town where he lived in Florida.  I suspect they have offices in every town in Florida.

The people at the NCS (my abbreviation) were empathetic, polite and helpful in every way possible. Being that I live 1,000 miles away from my brother I needed all the help I could get to carry out his wishes.

After making the appropriate arrangements they told me that they would contact me when his ashes were ready to be shipped. My sister agreed to take delivery of the ashes until his children finalize how they wish to deal with them.

A few days ago I received a voicemail from the NCS.  They said and I quote, “Hello Mr. Brownlee this is the National Cremation Society. We just wanted to let you know that the cremation has been performed and your brother is in the mail.”

I have to be honest.  Hearing that phrase, “your brother is in the mail”, I dropped my phone and broke into the loudest laugh I’ve had in some time.

All I could think of was my brother is now in the hands of the US Postal Service. And I don’t care what anybody says about the efficiency of the Post Office, he was delivered to my sister on time and without an ash being spilled.

True story.

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Too Stubborn To Leave


The other night I was in a men’s shelter in New York City. Not living there — thank God — but doing volunteer work.

While talking to a group of men who had to be there we started to all gripe about how tough it is to live in New York City.  The big complaint from every man was the economic  price of being a New Yorker.

Cigarettes cost $15 a pack.  Rents for a one-bedroom apartment average $3000 a month… if you’re lucky enough to find one.  A cup of coffee for $1.50 and that’s just the basic java.

These men are living on the knife edge of survival and the shelter is the only  roof over their heads that they can afford.

While listening to the men I heard the voices of people all around the country complaining about prices, lack of decent paying jobs, housing the average person an afford, etc.

The most ironic part of the evening was when 9 out of the 10 men said that they were going to leave New York because it’s become just way too expensive.  Think about that for a second. These were homeless men and even the homeless can’t afford to live in New York City. What’s next?  The vermin going to start bailing out too?

But there was one holdout.  A fellow who looked like he hadn’t shaved since the days of the straight razor proclaimed proudly that he was staying in New York.  “I was born here. Raised here. Call me stubborn but no one is going to chase me out of here.”

He went on to say that life is only as tough as you think it is. He then looked me in the eye and passed along something to me that he had seen on a bumper sticker.  Wiser advice I have never heard.

“Don’t believe everything  you think.”

True story.

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Ever felt useless?

This morning I woke up with a thought ringing in my head…and it wouldn’t stop clanging.

All I heard as I was showering and shaving and dressing was the sound of a voice saying, “You’ve lost y our usefulness.  You’re too old. Why don’t you get out of the business while you can.”

Crazy! Really crazy because I love what I do and the idea of just giving it up and whiling away my time is to me truly nuts.

But the voice wouldn’t shut up and the thought wouldn’t stop revolving around like a monotonous and annoying carousel.

As I was getting ready to leave for the day I stopped at my car to see how its trunk was doing since I had painted it just the night before. As I was checking to see if it was dry, I kept hearing the voice in my head muttering away…”So what are you going to do since you’re no longer useful.”  I couldn’t stand it anymore. I finally closed my eyes and thought to myself and whoever else might be out there in the cosmos listening…”OK, enough. Stop!”

Just a few seconds later I heard a man’s voice calling out…”Excuse me!  Excuse me!”  I turned and shuffling towards me was an elderly fellow who lives in the same condo complex I do.  I had noticed him around the grounds before but didn’t know him or exactly where he resided. I had heard from my neighbors that he was a curmudgeon and griper but since I had never spoken to him I wasn’t going to jump to judgment. The one thing I did notice was that he was walking/shuffling very, very slowly and I thought to myself it’s going to take him a long time to get to wherever he’s intending to go. (In all honesty if I had to shuffle/walk at that pace I’d be pretty cranky myself.)

He stopped about 10 yards from me and asked, “Could you give me a lift to the store up on the corner? I’d like to get the newspapers.”

My first reaction was to say to myself “just what I need.” But I looked at him standing there and said, “Sure, hop in.”  And he did…well not exactly “hop” but he did manage to get into the car. As we drove the short way to the corner store I introduced myself and he did the same.  I recognized his name, and I won’t go into details here so I can protect his anonymity, but that began a conversation about a topic I was familiar with and on which he is expert.

After he bought his daily newspapers I drove him back to his home (now I know exactly where he lives) and dropped him off.  He thanked me, hoisted his way out of my car, and as I drove away he shuffled/walked back to his condo unit carrying his daily newspapers.

The whole incident took only a few minutes and as I parked my car back in front of my condo I thought to myself, “Well, I guess you’re not so useless after all.”

True story.










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Fashion makes the weather

Yesterday I got caught in the rain.  Stupid of me. I should have paid attention to the morning weather reports that said “possible showers.”   Of course it said showers not downpour like the one that I found myself caught in when I left my office.

I’m not complaining about the rain.  We need it. What happened in the subway station is what sticks with me.

Rain? Subways? Was it raining in the subways?

I was planning on walking uptown 20 blocks or so to a meeting with friends. When I walked out of the office building it was cloudy but not threatening. As I got about a block or so away from my office — and the umbrella in it — the sprinkles started. Of course I figured I could cover the walk uptown and maybe I’d get a little damp. After all they were only sprinkles.

I got another block and the sprinkles became showers.  “Walk faster” I said to myself. So I walked faster. My shirt was quickly moving from damp to wet.

After another block it was like someone turned the knob on the spigot. The water was coming down with more force.  I ducked into a doorway and thought about waiting it out. But I didn’t want to be late for my appointment. I still had more than a dozen long blocks to cover. And it was rush hour in Manhattan. If you have never experienced a New York rush hour as a pedestrian, you can’t really imagine what it’s like to be buffeted, banged into and pushed if you’re just standing on the sidewalk. It’s either move or get walked over, not walked around. Welcome to New York.

So I moved. Just as I stepped out of the doorway the rain really came down. Not a shower this time but a sheet. People weren’t walking. They started running. Since the streets were so crowded people were just bumping into each other. That led to elbowing, cursing, jostling, and the rain kept coming down.

Rather than get socked and pummeled I opted for a true New York solution — duck into an underground subway station. Needless to say I was surrounded by other true New Yorkers so once I got down the stairs I found a crowd of people ranging from damp to sopped.

We all stood there moving a few inches here and a few inches there because everyone wanted to get going to wherever it was they were going just a few minutes before.  As the bodies shifted everyone’s eyes were focused on the stairwell waiting to see the rain cease or at least lessen.

As I stood there I became more and more anxious. I hate being late but I didn’t want to show up soaked to the skin.  You might ask yourself why I didn’t take the subway since I was in a subway station?  Good question but I made a bad choice of stations. The one I was in had trains that only went north and south in direction and I needed to go east from the west side of Manhattan. So I had no choice but to wait it out.

Then I saw a sign of the rain stopping rising from the stairs that connected to the subway platforms below.

It was a man in a spiffy suit.  He was wearing a really spiffy suit, complete with pocket square.  The suit looked to be a lightweight wool, grey, with thin subtle pinstripes. From cuffs to trouser hems, the suit fit the man perfectly. The wearer himself was tan, tall, physically fit, with precisely cut swept back grey hair.

When I saw him I knew I would make it to my meeting on time. I knew that the rain would stop as soon as he set foot on the stairs leading up to the street. As spiffy-suit-man approached me he paused for a second and looked up the stairway. Just as I knew it would, the rain stopped. Just stopped.

I knew it.  The rain wouldn’t dare fall on him and his spiffy, grey, perfectly cut, pinstripe bedecked garb.  For some reason and for some people it never does.

I followed him up the stairs to the street above and made it to my meeting on time.

True story.

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